Gus Cuddy | Essays:

Via negativa

21 November 2018

Sometimes it’s easier to take out, rather than to leave in. Via negativa: addition by subtraction. It’s what a lot of great prose does.

But it applies to theatre, too: often we know what is bad in theatre—what makes us cringe—better than what is great.

So it’s useful to make a list of clichés and things that mean you immediately lose. For instance, in Shakespeare comedies, the propensity for men pointing at their crotches, or sing-song laughing through lines in a way that nobody in their right mind finds funny. Or music that starts in a transition and then cuts out suddenly when the scene starts, with no awareness of rhythm or pacing (it’s like being sucked into a vacuum—I’d rather just listen to the Kendrick song). Or, for me, period dress and accents. Specifically when we do English accents for a play that could just as well be done with American ones, or we default to the most boring, dead period dress costumes imaginable.

I’m going to start keeping a list of things not to do in theatre. Know what’s bad; then don’t do that.